Remember the moments they sacrificed

by Gary Shelton on May 29, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Rays

Monday, 4 a.m.

Do not remember the way he died, in a place too far from home, by gunfire from his fellow soldiers. Do not remember the ugliness that followed in the investigation of his death. Do not remember the profiteers who sought to squeeze a nickel from his death.

With Pat Tillman, you have to remember the way he lived.

And the sacrifice it entailed.

It is Memorial Day, a day when many of us think about Tillman, hero, and the life he gave up. A new wife, a young career, more fame than he wanted, more fortune than he

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could spend. He was the best of us, Tillman, a man who would turn his back on the soft life of a professional athlete, on a $3.6 million contract. He was a man who died for his beliefs, and ours.

I've always believed this. If he had wanted, Tillman could have had the cushiest enlistment in history. He could have been a poster boy for the armed services. He could have posed for magazines, and he could have smiled for the cameras, and he could have worked at recruiting. The officers in charge would have smiled and shown him off.

But Tillman didn't want to be a poster boy. He wanted to be a soldier. Only then would it all be worth it.

So he died, at an incredibly young age. He sacrificed the nice evenings with his wife, and the joyous days with children to come. He would be 40 now, the age at which a man is largely complete. His career would be done. He would have been surrounded by his family.

The moments I think about, though, are the small ones. A guy ordering a plate of wings with his brother. A guy watching a movie with his wife. A guy playing fetch with his dog. A guy laughing and telling stories at the Cardinals' alumni meetings.

Tillman gave up all of it.

A few years ago, I did a column about those who would sell the remnants of what Tillman left behind. There were dozens, hundreds of exhibits on eBay, including from sellers who swore it was a personal gift from Tillman. But Tillman never would have wanted someone profiting from him.

I wrote. I got letters from the sellers telling me about their rights to sell their memorabilia. Afterward, I showered.

Remember Tillman today. Remember all of the vets from all of the sports who sacrificed — or who risked sacrifice — to serve. Remember most of them were kids when they went in, and they didn't know the lands they might be shipped to. But it was right, and so they did it.

I once did a story with the widow of former Bills' player Bob Kalsu, who died in Vietnam. He had two small children, and he left a hole in each of them. Years later, they still felt his loss.

Yogi Berra was at the Invasion of Normandy in something called “a rocket boat.” Rocky Bleier was wounded in Vietnam. Ted Williams flew 40 combat missions. Bob Feller spent four years on the U.S.S. Alabama. Hank Bauer won two purple hearts. Warren Spahn was at the battle of the bulge. Gil Hodges was at Okinawa.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame lists 23 men who were killed during World War II and two who died in Vietnam. That's a lot more bravery than it takes for third-and-one.

Get the picture? Some of the finest athletes anyone has ever seen were convinced of a higher purpose, of a better uniform. Some of them took a rifle into their hands and left their loved ones and went thousands of miles to fight a common enemy. It doesn't matter what you think of their wars, or what you think of their superiors.

The point is that such men deserve our memories today. They deserve a nod of appreciation.

They fought for us.

I grew up as a liberal in a conservative part of the country. We never booed soldiers. But the friends of mine who went into the service could have been treated better. Most of the guys I knew who did were honorable guys who were fulfilling their draft requirements.

Today, I wonder about the patriotism of the athletes who went to war. Was it Patriotism? Courage? Expectations?

All I know is that it took a little bit of all of it.

Today, of all days, thank a veteran, won't you? They've earned it.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Myers May 29, 2017 at 9:50 am

Thank you Gary. It is obvious from the emotion of your thoughts that you get it. I hope I speak for all your veteran fans when I say how much I appreciate the honor you show for those that have served and are still serving to keep this country the land of free because of the brave.

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Gary Shelton May 29, 2017 at 11:31 am

Bill, it’s easy to get. I’m the son of a man who served in World War II, the father of a man who spend time on a ship in the China Sea, the son in law of a man who was in Okinawa. I thank you, and all veterans, for your service, your time, your heart.

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